Growing the workforce and enriching the community
Workforce development programs bolster the prosperity of communities
By Chris Towery
While effective workforce development programs are hugely beneficial to the contractors who offer them, they can also help bolster the prosperity of entire communities. One example of this is a new high school internship program started by Gaylor Electric in Noblesville, Indiana. The program is not only creating a new source of well-trained craft professionals for the company, it is also helping to strengthen the city’s economic development by providing its young people with rewarding careers that keep them living and working in the local community.
Gaylor Electric is a national electrical contractor headquartered in Indiana with more than 1,000 employees throughout the country. The company created the internship program in response to a community development initiative called Vision Noblesville. “We’re trying to educate [young people], letting them know about the great career opportunities that exist locally that they might not be aware of. We’re giving them passion and direction up front, so they can actually have meaningful careers.” Originally developed in 1993 as a benchmarking process to measure the city’s successes and failures, Vision Noblesville has evolved into an integral part of the community’s overall governance and development.
One of Vision Noblesville’s primary objectives is to provide its citizens with high-quality educational opportunities by fostering partnerships between its local schools and businesses. The new internship program is the result of a unique partnership between Gaylor, Noblesville High School and the local chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors (ABC). The program is designed to provide high school students who lack a clear plan for their future with the direction and motivation they need to build successful careers.
“Many young people leave high school without any direction and don’t know what they want to do with their lives,” said Gaylor’s Executive Vice President Chuck Goodrich. “We’re trying to educate them, letting them know about the great career opportunities that exist locally that they might not be aware of. We’re giving them passion and direction up front, so they can actually have meaningful careers.” Gaylor was one of more than a dozen local companies that got involved with Vision Noblesville to partner with area schools. These companies covered a wide range of different industries, such as healthcare, manufacturing, veterinary medicine and, of course, construction. To develop the partnerships, counselors from Noblesville High School visited the participating companies to learn more about the different careers they offered. Since Gaylor’s internship program would involve a joint effort between the company and the local ABC chapter, the counselors were invited to tour Gaylor’s facilities, as well as the ABC training center.
“We started by bringing in all of the high school counselors to Gaylor and showing them what we do,” said Goodrich. “Then we sent them to ABC, where they were able to perform some of the hands-on tasks: wiring, carpentry, electrical work and other things.”
The counselors loved the tours. Many expressed how much they enjoyed learning about the careers that were available for the students. After the counselors toured all of the different companies, they matched students with the businesses they felt would best suit their career interests. In the end, 125 students were selected for internships throughout the community, and nearly 30 of those students— mostly juniors and a few seniors—were selected for craft internships.
The internship program started at the beginning of the 2013- 2014 school year. Students were bussed to the ABC training center in Indianapolis one to two days a week for a three-hour class. At ABC, students learned NCCER’s Core Curriculum and were offered an introduction to the various career options available in the crafts. At the same time, students also attended a three-hour craft-training class at Noblesville High School one to two days each week.
“During the first year at ABC, students take NCCER Core and get their OSHA-10 card,” said Karen Kouwe, education specialist and director of high school programming at the ABC Indiana/Kentucky Chapter. “Plus, we also give them a brief overview of the different trades. At the high school, students take a class that teaches them the online portion of the NCCER curriculum. The school provides a traditional classroom setting, and we offer them mostly lab work, so they can learn the hands-on skills.”
In the spring semester of 2014, Noblesville High School and various companies held a career fair, where students in the program could interview with the different companies and apply for a paid summer internship. “We had them create resumes and do multiple interviews with our HR department.” One of the goals of the event was to provide students with an authentic experience of the interview and hiring process.
“We wanted to make things as real world as possible—just as if they were 25-year-olds going on an actual job interview,” said Goodrich. “We had them create resumes and do multiple interviews with our HR department.”
Gaylor ended up hiring 15 students for the summer internship. Over the eight-week summer semester, students reported to Gaylor Monday through Friday and worked a 40-hour week, for which they were paid $9 per hour. During that time, Gaylor trained students in all of the different tasks that make up a career in the electrical trade, such as pulling wire, running cable, installing light fixtures, running conduit, installing devices and clean up.
To make sure the students were getting the most out of the internship, Gaylor hired Deanna Cummins, Noblesville High School’s at-risk coordinator, to provide the students with extra support and guidance. Cummins visited different job sites and met one-on-one with students and their supervisors to make sure the students had everything they needed to succeed. While Gaylor provided the students with technical training, Cummins focused primarily on their mastery of soft skills.
“I met with the kids mainly to work on their soft skills development,” said Cummins. “These skills involve things like communication, problem solving, getting to work on time—all of the things we think kids already know, but many just don’t.”
In addition to the job experience and development of soft skills, the summer internships at Gaylor also provided students with structure and responsibility. The program prevented them from getting off track over the summer and doing something that could negatively affect their futures.
“One of the things we wanted to address with the internship is to prevent the loss of some students who are good kids and should graduate but get in trouble over the summer,” said Goodrich. “We designed this internship program as a way to keep the kids busy, so they don’t have any opportunity to get sidetracked.”
High school juniors who successfully completed the summer internship started the second year of the program in August. As seniors, these students will continue to intern with Gaylor two to three days per week, along with attending a Level 1 electrical apprenticeship class at ABC one night a week. At the end of the second year, students will have completed Level 1 of the electrical apprenticeship. By accomplishing this, the students will not only be better prepared to start a full-time job at Gaylor when they graduate, but they will also be well on their way to getting their journeyman’s license.
“The program gives kids a major jumpstart on their careers,” said Kouwe. “When they graduate, they will have their NCCER Core credentials and have completed the first year of ABC’s electrical apprenticeship program. From there, the plan is for them to start working full time for Gaylor over the summer and begin Level 2 of the apprenticeship when it starts in September 2015.”
While the internship program with Gaylor and ABC is designed to be a two-year program that runs through a student’s junior and senior years, several students in their senior year who were not planning to go to college were allowed to enroll in the program during the 2013-2014 school year. Of these seniors, Gaylor ended up hiring six of them full time when they graduated in May.
“Gaylor provided the six seniors with an amazing opportunity not only to be employed with a decent wage, but also to get additional training and on-the-job experience, which is priceless,” said Cummins. “They didn’t really know what they wanted to do after graduating, but now they have a great career right out of high school.”
With six students already hired and another 10 expected to be hired in May 2015, the internship program is off to a promising start. Goodrich believes that much of the program’s success is because of the commitment and flexibility from the faculty at Noblesville High School. Looking ahead, Goodrich anticipates that the program will provide 50 new employees each year. By putting that many young people to work, Gaylor is not only establishing a new pipeline of qualified craft professionals to sustain its own workforce, but it is also ensuring the prosperity of the entire community.
“One of our primary goals—and the goal of Vision Noblesville— is to provide an educated, well-trained workforce that will provide for the city’s economic development,” said Goodrich. “We want to grow both our workforce and the tax base of Noblesville. It’s really about giving our citizens the direction, opportunities and motivation they need to truly succeed.”
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